When a ‘tache was for life, not just for Movember

It’s that time of year again when family members, colleagues and friends cast aside their regular grooming habits in aid of mens’ health charities and grow a moustache for Movember. This spectacular seems to be growing in popularity every year, offering men carte blanche to experiment with their facial hair without scaring off their nearest and dearest.

My dad has gone back to his trusted David Seamen tache from the 80s’, but looking around you can see a variety of styles, many evocative of a particular place or historical period.

So for today’s post I’m going to share with you a collection of moustaches from our fair city of York from 1880s-1920s. It’s interesting to see from the group photos when moustaches were ubiquitous, and when they were more about personal taste and expression.


Close-up from group Police photograph, c.1888

Let’s kick off with this recently re-discovered gem from the archive, which appears to show members of the York police force around 1888. Facial hair was most definitely “in” ! This is a wonderful photo, hopefully we will be able to be identify some of the individuals by cross referencing the numbers on their collars with other records we have in the civic archive.


Aldermen Dodsworth, Sheriff of York 1897

Here we have another York character, Aldermen Dodworth, Sherriff of York at the time. Complementing his chain of office he has cultivated a snazzy moustache as benefited a civic gentlemen.


Moustaches were not just for police and officials, here we have a great photo of workers from the Terry’s confectionery factory taken sometime in the early 1900s.  A couple of them are clearly too young to “Mo”.

Terry’s workers from the packing department at Clementhorpe, early 1900s


York has a strong tradition of amateur dramatics – these gents are dressed as royalist civil war soldiers for the 1909 historical pageant.

This is a bit of a cheat! It’s clearly not a photo of actual civil war royalist soldiers, but was taken at the highly successful 1909 York historical pageant. Clearly moustaches were seen as part of the necessary costume – I can’t quite tell which are real and which are fake (click to zoom in) but there seems to be a mixture.


Edward, Prince of Wales and the Lord Mayor in May 1923.

The ultimate accessory for both casual and formal scenarios, this image shows the Lord Mayor, a jeweller, dazzling Edward Prince of Wales with his majestic mo. I love how the Lord Mayor is taking up the red carpet, so the Prince has to walk along the edge!

That’s it for the archives this Movember, and remember you’ve just two days left to snap a picture of the mo’s around you this month to record for posterity before they disappear on the 1st of December. Let’s see if we can confuse historians of the future…

A warm welcome to York Press readers!

Hello and welcome to those of you who have read about the City Making History project in the York Press and come along to find out more. This blog is the story of the cataloguing project, where I talk about what I’m doing, why and how.

If you’d like more background info about the project, the archive collection or the innovative new cataloguing technique  that I am using, please click the links at the top of the page.

Otherwise feel free to dive right in and explore the content! You can start at the beginning and read through chronologically by clicking the months on the left bar (always my favourite way to catch up with a new blog) or you can use the tag cloud to go straight to the topics that interest you.

If you want to find out about being an archivist and what actually happens behind the scenes, then  click on “What archivists do” or if you are more interested in seeing historic records, then click “Lucky Dips” to see archives in lots of detail.

Like what you see? Why not join my regular followers by subscribing by email – then you get each new post (typically once a week) sent direct to you inbox.

Not seen the Press feature yet? Just pick up a local paper or click through to the York Press website. It was very strange to be interviewed and being the one in front of the camera for once, I think I prefer to hide behind my keyboard!

The project is a third of the way through. Five months down, ten to go and please don’t forget to get in touch and let me know your thoughts, questions or ideas via the comments box you’ll find at the bottom of every post.

How authority files can make archive catalogues more like IMDB

The replacement of paper catalogues like Giles’ with digital databases has allowed archivists to cram ever more information into them, and made them more flexible for researchers to use. The digital elements I’m working on up until Christmas are called “authority files”.

When we catalogue a record, one of the things we record is its creator. This is because much of the value of archives comes from knowing about the context in which they were made: why, how, when, and by who etc. So, a catalogue entry might say Creator: City Treasury.

That’s all well and good but what exactly is the City Treasury? When did it operate? What did it do and why? Is it still around? Traditionally, a researcher would have to go away and look it up in other sources, or the cataloguer might have written an introduction to help you out.

But with databases we can be a bit more cunning. We create an “authority file” for each creator (which may be a person or family but for us will be mainly corporate bodies) with relevant information and then every time we catalogue a relevant record we link it back to that one place. It’s like an actor record on IMDB, that you can click to from the IMDB entry for a film they were in.

This is really efficient because I only have to research and describe the City Treasury once, then every record that has something to do with the Treasury will link back to it. This is important as I reckon I’ve got about 170 to create!

To complement our cataloguing standard for records, we have one for authority files called ISAAR (CPF) [PDF]. This specifies a list of fields (metadata) to pick from. They include the name, dates of operation, location, and more technical things like any legal documents that founded or altered the authority.

As well as linking authority files to records, you can link them up with each other to show relationships. For example, here are three phases in the life of one of the CYC committees:

Public assistance committee (1929-1948)–>

Welfare Committee (1948-1970) –>

Social Services Committee (1971-1974)

I know this because I’ve looked it up, but what about a researcher using the catalogue for the first time? A search for “Welfare Committee” will only return records from 1948-1970, which is frustrating if you are looking for older or newer records that you know should exist. If there are authority files attached to the records, then there will be an explanation of the changes over time and links to click to find the other versions.

Authority files serve three purposes:

  1. They provide an additional browseable pathway for discovering and exploring a collection. 
  2. They consolidate information in one central place. The cataloguer only needs to research and describe once and users  can see the information at a glance, or click, from any relevant record. 
  3. They show the complex relationships between records creators, and how they change over time. In this collection (which contains the records of an unusually large number of both public and private authorities) they can show precisely when and how responsibility for various functions shifts into the council, and out again and back in again over hundreds of years.

For example, the Yorkshire Museum was run by the York Philosophical Society during the 1830s-1960s,  then by the Council 1960s-2000s and then transferred to the York Museums Trust 2000s-the present. One function but with three very separate authorities creating records.

Authority files are sometimes seen as luxury extras by archivists but for this project they are absolutely essential. The whole point of a traditional organisational structure is that it arranges records under their respective creators, but I just don’t think it can adequately handle complexity over time.  Authority files give me a separate (and better) way of expressing the concrete facts and relationships of the record creators, freeing me up to take a different tack with my structure.

By using authority files you can even move away from hierarchical catalogues altogether if you want to, which is the norm in Australia (arguably the world leaders in archives and records theory).

We are a bit more attached to our traditional ways in the UK but in this project we’re deliberately taking elements from various international approaches and using them as building blocks to create what we think is the best solution in our circumstances. Realising that there isn’t one right way of doing it, but a tool box of options, has been incredibly liberating and fingers crossed will result in a catalogue we can be proud of and build on in the future.

Lucky Dip #4 – Chamberlains’ account books 1666-1679

Aisle 4 contains some of our older civic records. Let me introduce you to Lucky Dip #4 – Chamberlains’ account books 1666-1679 [CB 26].

Chamberlains' Account Book Volume 26 1666-1679

Chamberlains’ Account Book, Volume 26, 1666-1679 [CB 26]

The Chamberlains kept the official City accounts, and the post goes back at least as far as 1290 in York. We have two major series of their records, known as the Chamberlains’ books and Chamberlains’ rolls.

The rolls (1398-1835, with gaps) are the “official” audited accounts, and were signed off once a year, whereas the books (1446-1835, with gaps) were everyday records and contain more detail and bits and pieces such as receipts and bills.

Lucky Dip #4 records money in, money out, savings, investments and charity accounts of the City of York during part of the reign of Charles II. It’s so information-rich that any page is fascinating, but here are a couple to show a range of transactions.

In order to spend money, the City had to first receive money. Listed on this page are some of the “casual receipts” for miscellaneous income in 1668. These include interest on bonds, and one resident’s payment to become a freeman.

"Casual Receipts"

“Casual Receipts” – click to get to the massive image you can zoom into

If the City chose you to be an officer, like Sheriff, you either had to accept the appointment or pay hefty fine to avoid it. As being an officer was not only a faff but could cost a lot of your own money (which you may or may not manage to claim back), many people paid the fine to avoid it. This was a substantial amount of income for the City, who sometimes took advantage of it by targeting their nominations to those they knew would prefer (and could afford!) to pay up.

In March 1668 they managed to get an impressive total of £60 off two candidates in the space of a week! That was a lot of money, and such fines for exoneration from office were a substantial portion of city income for centuries.

Close up of text

The fines were sometimes fixed and sometimes varied – for some reason John Paylin paid twice as much as Andrew Hessletine to get out of being a Sheriff!

So what did they spend it on? Like today, part of the money was spent on setting up young people in apprenticeships, another portion paid the people who kept the public administration running, such as the mayor, common clerk, cook, baker and caretaker:

Quarterly salaries paid for the running of the common chamber including the mayor and caretaker.

Daily expenses were varied, seen below for the month of January 1668/69. Payments went to a messenger delivering a letter, a lawyer for drawing up a petition, a porter for carrying coal to the council chamber, and slightly worryingly, “To the tipstaves [sherrif’s officials] for whipping people openly and privately” – presumably to do with the corporation’s responsibility for crime and punishment.

Payments made in January 1666/67

Payments made in January 1668/69

But not all the money could be spent on local matters. York had national responsibilities to send money up to the king. Lucky Dip #4 has several examples of these taxes, particularly for wars, via the expenses claimed by the sheriffs for collecting it.

Close up of text

Entry for paying the sheriffs’ expenses to collect the royal assessment for war funds.

So that’s the content of the record, but what happened after it was no longer in current use? All physical objects have a history of their own, and a significant point for these accounts was the flood of 1892 when the records came to the attention of William Giles. As well as writing his catalogue he also sorted and arranged the records (just like I am doing 100 years later, albeit differently) and sent some to be conserved and rebound at the Public Record Office in London.

The codex we are looking at would not have been familiar to its original authors as it has been altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. The volume is actually made up from a number of smaller volumes, which have been bound together with a new PRO binding and titlepages.

Open volume with modern title page

Can you see the different sized quires bound together into one composite volume?

You can easily see where books of different sizes have been put together. We are lucky they didn’t cut them down to fit and look neater which sometimes happens!

We see Giles as a bit of a hero, but his actions were not purely beneficial. Whilst he arranged for the records to be professionally conserved by experts of the day,  some of their methods of conservation proved damaging in the long run.

We can see it here where some of the pages have been discoloured to a dark yellow.  This page isn’t too bad as the text is dark but for some pages in our older records it is almost impossible to read what’s written.

Open volume with one yellow page and one white page

The page on the left was conserved in Giles’ time and has gone yellow since.

Modern conservators now follow a principle that all work should be reversible. Parts of Lucky Dip #4 were conserved again, to modern standards, using high quality acid free paper to stabilise the pages and make it clear which bits are original and which are additions. It was attached with starch-based glue so it can be removed with water if required.

Page with modern conservation repairs with white paper.

Modern conservation paper stabilisation of a fragmented page.

I’m really fascinated by the journey of physical items, on top of the informational value they contain. It really is like archaeology; you search for clues and look at different layers to put a story together. Nowadays we help out our successors by keeping records about our records, recording exactly what we have done to an item “on our watch”.

As I re-catalogue the archives I will give them new reference numbers, but the older ones will still be recorded on the catalogue entry. This means old and new references will still match up and this chapter is only one of many in the 350 year old chain of custody (all within the City of York Council) from the clerks who wrote them, via Giles and his contemporaries to us in the early 21st century and beyond.

Finding yourself in the archives

One of the joys and challenges of researching archival sources is going beneath the skin of a physical item and transporting yourself back to the moment when it was created, whether fifty or five hundred years ago. Sometimes working out what a record is about, or whom, can be a slow and difficult process requiring in-depth historical knowledge, painstaking research and a deliberate approach.

But sometimes it isn’t.

A few months ago, Victoria (my boss, the civic archivist) gave an introductory talk about the archives at York Explore. She took along a slideshow presentation showing various images of records to indicate the types of things we have in our collection.

This was one of the photos, a black and white school photo taken at Mill Mount School in 1927.

Mill Mount School photograph 1927

If you click on the image you can see it properly in full or zoom right in to see the detail.

For me, and maybe for you, the 1920s is simply one of the various conceptual historical chunks that lives in my head as a way of arbitrarily dividing up the past.

But for a lady in the audience that day, it wasn’t just a generic historical source representing 1920s education; it was her school photo, capturing her childhood in York and the people she shared it with.

“That’s me!”

After pointing out herself, seventh from the left in the front row, the lady said she knew the names of other people in the photo. After the talk, we sent her a copy and she recently sent us back a list of all the girls and teachers she could remember. This will be cross-referenced with the catalogue entry so in the future, a user researching a person associated with that school in that year may for the first time be able to put a face to a name.

Mill Mount School photo detail

Can you see the girl seventh from the left in the front row? She is now 97 and still lives in York!

Instead of a silent picture, we now have one more piece of the interconnected web of York life with its communities of friends and neighbours, colleagues, hobbies and gossip.

Archivists can’t catalogue everything in minute detail because a) we were not there and b) we can’t be experts on every period of history! Our expertise lies in protecting, preserving and making accessible the raw stuff of history so that YOU (or your mother or your great-great-great-great-great grandchild) can get in amongst it and make your own discoveries.

Archives are not just windows into the past, they are the authentic creations of individual people who lived before us and, as this shows, still live among us. They are archaeology that was never buried.

Every record was created for a purpose at a point in time, and whatever other purposes we use them for (such as evidence of our ancestors or primary sources on the wider themes of history) their integrity is based on their original identity, their true purpose. In this case, a photo taken as a visual memento of a group of girls at school is once more serving this true purpose 70 years later for one of the last, or perhaps only, surviving person it still can.